The caveats of the cold weather and a pinky injury that was clearly bothering Carr must be acknowledged before we proceed. Nevertheless, there's little need to sugarcoat an all-out failure by the players in the passing game tonight, one that resulted in one of the worst quarterback performances of the 2016 season.
It was apparent all night that Carr could not push the ball downfield. Typically a quarterback who is judicious with his attempts to air it out on a regular basis, Carr only averaged 8.4 intended air yards on his passes tonight. That's right in line with his season average of 8.7 heading into Week 14.
However, it was the wide gap between his intention and success that was the story of the game. Carr averaged a mere 3.3 air yards per completion tonight, good for a minus-5.1 differential between his intended and completed air yards. Carr's minus-5.1 differential came in as the fifth-worst quarterback score among passers who attempted 40 or more passes in a game:
While you can put some lipstick on the pig of tonight's game by pointing out some of the names on that list, there's another less positive mark that makes Carr stand out. His 8.4 average intended air yards is dwarfed by Ben Roethlisberger's 13.3, Aaron Rodgers' 12.5 and even Jameis Winston's 11.8. All of those quarterbacks were pushing the ball deep downfield in negative game scripts while playing from behind. All came in games where their teams would go on to lose. Additionally, Roethlisberger was in his annual "come back two weeks too early" game of the year. Carr was also playing hurt and from behind tonight, but his sterling lack of efficiency as a passer looks worse in comparison to these other bottom five scores when you realize he wasn't truly playing with much aggression, unlike the others.
As mentioned, this night was not all on Carr. His play was a major, and likely the main factor, but he must share the blame with others. Dropped passes and poor play at the wide receiver position were a big issue for the Raiders tonight.
Even while Carr was clearly hurting and unable to throw with velocity, the game plan still revolved around low percentage passes. Whether by their own play, or because of the route concepts, the Raiders receivers struggled to create routine separation.
Raiders WRs average yards of separation at target:
Amari Cooper:2.1 yards, 10 targets
Seth Roberts: 1.1 yard, nine targets
Michael Crabtree: 2.0 yards, seven targets
Andre Holmes: 1.1 yard, one targets
*League average: 2.7 yards of separation at target
With the lack of space afforded by the wide receivers' separation, Carr needed to make tight-window throws in order to fit passes where they needed to be. It was quite clear that he lacked the velocity to do so tonight.
Coming into the game with a strong box score and a litter of dazzling late-game wins, Derek Carr appeared to be building a potential MVP resume. Fair or not, this game will weigh heavily on the minds of voters. As such, if Carr fails to take home that hardware, we can probably pinpoint this as a reason why.
This was a huge moment for the upstart Raiders and their ascending quarterback. A late-season nationally televised game to grab hold of the AFC West lead with authority is the kind of scene where award-winning players write their cases for consideration. While there were external factors, it was a step in the wrong direction at a time when they needed quite the opposite.